Ruby – The Birthstone of July – Part 4

Synthetic and imitation rubies

In 1837, Gaudin made the first synthetic rubies by fusing potash alum at a high temperature with a little chromium as a pigment. In 1847, Ebelmen made white sapphire by fusing alumina in boric acid. In 1877, Frenic and Freil made crystal corundum from which small stones could be cut. Frimy and Auguste Verneuil manufactured artificial ruby by fusing BaF2 and Al2O3 with a little chromium at red heat. In 1903, Verneuil announced he could produce synthetic rubies on a commercial scale using this flame fusion process. By 1910, Verneuil’s laboratory had expanded into a 30 furnace production facility, with annual gemstone production having reached 1,000 kilograms (2,000 lb) in 1907.

Other processes in which synthetic rubies can be produced are through Czochralski’s pulling process, flux process, and the hydrothermal process. Most synthetic rubies originate from flame fusion, due to the low costs involved. Synthetic rubies may have no imperfections visible to the naked eye but magnification may reveal curves, striae and gas bubbles. The fewer the number and the less obvious the imperfections, the more valuable the ruby is; unless there are no imperfections (i.e., a perfect ruby), in which case it will be suspected of being artificial. Dopants are added to some manufactured rubies so they can be identified as synthetic, but most need gemological testing to determine their origin.

Synthetic rubies have technological uses as well as gemological ones. Rods of synthetic ruby are used to make ruby lasers and masers. The first working laser was made by Theodore H. Maiman in 1960.  Maiman used a solid-state light-pumped synthetic ruby to produce red laser light at a wavelength of 694 nanometers (nm). Ruby lasers are still in use. Rubies are also used in applications where high hardness is required such as at wear exposed locations in modern mechanical clockworks, or as scanning probe tips in a coordinate measuring machine.

Imitation rubies are also marketed. Red spinels, red garnets, and colored glass have been falsely claimed to be rubies. Imitations go back to Roman times and already in the 17th century techniques were developed to color foil red—by burning scarlet wool in the bottom part of the furnace—which was then placed under the imitation stone. Trade terms such as balas ruby for red spinel and rubellite for red tourmaline can mislead unsuspecting buyers. Such terms are therefore discouraged from use by many gemological associations such as the Laboratory Manual Harmonisation Committee (LMHC).

Records and famous rubies

Rubies at the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C., USA

  • The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. has some of the world’s largest and finest ruby gemstones. The 23.1 carats (4.62 g) Burmese ruby, set in a platinum ring with diamonds, was donated by businessman and philanthropist Peter Buck in memory of his late wife Carmen Lúcia. This gemstone displays a richly saturated red color combined with an exceptional transparency. The finely proportioned cut provides vivid red reflections. The stone was mined from the Mogok region of Burma (now Myanmar) in the 1930s.
  • In 2007 the London jeweler Garrard & Co featured on their website a heart-shaped 40.63-carat ruby.
  • On December 13/14, 2011 Elizabeth Taylor’s complete jewellery collection was auctioned by Christie’s. Several ruby-set pieces were included in the sale, notably a ring set with an 8.24 ct gem that broke the ‘price-per-carat’ record for rubies ($512,925 per carat, i.e. over $4.2 million in total), and a necklace that sold for over $3.7 million.
  • The Liberty Bell Ruby is the largest mined ruby in the world. It was stolen in a heist in 2011.
  • The Sunrise Ruby is the world’s most expensive ruby, most expensive colored gemstone, and most expensive gemstone other than a diamond. In May 2015, it sold at auction in Switzerland to an anonymous buyer for US$30 million.
  • A synthetic ruby crystal became the gain medium in the world’s first optical laser, conceived, designed and constructed by Theodore H. “Ted” Maiman, on the 16th of May, 1961 at Hughes Research Laboratories. The concept of electromagnetic radiation amplification through the mechanism of stimulated emission had already been successfully demonstrated in the laboratory by way of the Maser, using other materials such as ammonia and, later, ruby, but the ruby laser was the first device to work at optical (694.3 nm) wavelengths. Maiman’s prototype laser is still in working order.

Historical and cultural references

  • An early recorded transport and trading of rubies arises in the literature on the North Silk Road of China, wherein about 200 BC rubies were carried along this ancient track way moving westward from China.
  • Rubies have always been held in high esteem in Asian countries. They were used to ornament armor, scabbards, and harnesses of noblemen in India and China. Rubies were laid beneath the foundation of buildings to secure good fortune to the structure.

(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)